The Message John Lennon Was Sending to Beatles Fans on ‘Glass Onion’
If you liked hearing The Beatles reference past songs in their work, 1968 was a very good year. The releases kicked off in March with Paul McCartney’s “Lady Madonna,” in which listeners got the chorus, “See how they run.”
That repeated a line from “I Am the Walrus,” the John Lennon masterpiece from a year earlier. But many more references would follow on the White Album (released later in ’68). On “Savoy Truffle,” George Harrison called out “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” from earlier in the recording sessions.
But John would outdo everyone with his laundry list of references on “Glass Onion.” Keeping the chain alive, he referenced both “Lady Madonna” and “I Am the Walrus” in the track while adding nods to songs from Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour.
The intent was to address the Beatles fans who were going overboard with interpretations of every word and sound on Fab Four recordings. And, even by John’s standards, “Glass Onion” was a mischievous bit of work.
John said he was ‘having a laugh’ with the ‘Glass Onion’ references
When John set his sights on a target, he could really let loose. In this case, he’d had enough of “the gobbledygook about [Sgt.] Pepper — play it backwards and you stand on your head and all that.” (The Beatles had added bonus sounds to the end of Pepper, but they had no actual meaning.)
In response, he wrote “Glass Onion,” in which he was “having a laugh,” with a clear intent of sidetracking some fans. “I thought I’d confuse people who read great depths into lyrics,” he said. And his line about the Walrus being Paul definitely did the trick.
“I threw the line in – The Walrus was Paul’ – just to confuse everybody a bit more,” he told Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980. “It could have been ‘the fox terrier is Paul,’ you know. I mean, it’s just a bit of poetry. It was just thrown in like that.”
When The Beatles released Abbey Road and the “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory took off (with the help of the Abbey Road cover) in 1969, “The Walrus was Paul” again took on significance. And, though he couldn’t have anticipated that development, that was John’s point in writing the song.
John and Paul remembered differently who wore the Walrus costume in ‘Magical Mystery Tour’
Obviously, being his song, John would be the one wearing the Walrus costume in the Magical Mystery Tour shoot. But he and Paul remembered it differently. “I mean, it was actually me in the Walrus suit,” John said.
Paul recalled wearing the suit for the film. “When we came to do the costumes on ‘I Am The Walrus,’ it happened to be me in the walrus costume,” he said in Many Years From Now. Either way, Paul knew what John was doing and enjoyed the joke.
“It was not significant at all, but it was a nice little twist to the legend that we threw in,” he said. In 2001, he mentioned that John actually ran the lyric by him before including it in the song. And Paul was all for it.
“I said, ‘It’s a great line.’ You know, it’s a spoof on the way everyone was always reading into our songs. I said, ‘There you go, you’ve given them another clue to follow.'”